UW prepares for battle at Capital One Bowl

first_imgDEREK MONTGOMERY/Herald photoJoe Thomas has a pretty vivid memory of the last time Wisconsin faced Auburn.”I just felt like every time I tackled a guy, I felt like it was the same guy, but he was wearing a different number,” Thomas said. “Those guys were so hard to tackle, you could barely knock them down I felt like and their [offensive line] was huge.”Thomas, who lined up at defensive end in the game due to a slew of injuries along the UW defensive line, was part of the unit that had the unenviable task of bringing down the Tigers’ two-headed monster of Carnell “Cadillac” Williams and Ronnie Brown.But then again a lot has changed in the two years since the two teams met in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl. Gone are Auburn offensive machines Jason Campbell, Williams and Brown — all three gone in the first round of last season’s NFL Draft. Instead, names like Brandon Cox and Kenny Irons will try to lead the Auburn offense against Wisconsin in the 2006 edition of the Capital One Bowl.While Cox has done an admirable job stepping in for Campbell, completing nearly 60 percent of his passes and tossing 14 touchdowns to seven interceptions, Auburn’s bread and butter this year has been its ground attack. After sitting out the 2004 season because of transfer rules, Irons has picked up where Williams and Brown left off and the Tigers have rarely seemed to miss a beat.Irons has rushed for 1,205 yards, 13 touchdowns and averaged better than five yards per carry in his first action since a 19-carry, 51-yard sophomore campaign at South Carolina in 2003. And he’s running behind another huge line, one that features first team All-American Marcus McNeill at left tackle and four starters that weigh more than 300 pounds.”I’m sure they’re going to try to pound the ball at us and run the ball. But that’s the kind of thing our defense is built for,” junior linebacker Mark Zalewski said.But that’s not to say everything has changed. Ask any Badger what one word classifies the Auburn team and you’ll get the same answer for both sides of the ball.”Fast. A real fast team, good speed,” Wisconsin senior wide receiver Jonathan Orr said when asked what stuck out about the Auburn team. “That’s the main thing when I think about them, the thing that comes to mind — speed. Especially on the defense, especially the line and their linebackers and of course the [defensive backs]. Just a real fast team.”Second team all-SEC selections Will Herring (safety) and Travis Williams (linebacker) lead the way for an athletic Tiger defense — one that has allowed just 14.7 points per game on the year.”Their linebackers fly around and make a lot of plays for their defense,” Thomas said.Wisconsin is hoping that defense won’t stop them in their tracks like it did two years ago, when the Tigers topped the Badgers 28-14 and limited them to 261 yards of total offense. Even more so, though, they’re hoping to send head coach Barry Alvarez off on a winning note in his final game on the sidelines for Wisconsin.”We don’t really talk about it, but I think we all know, we want to put him out right after what he’s done here,” Zalewski said. “The way we finished last year and losing a bowl game, I think everyone remembers that and how bad we felt after that, so I think the whole team just wants to finish real strong.”With a win, UW could avoid closing out the season on a down note for the first time since Dec. 28, 2002, when then-quarterback Brooks Bollinger led the Badgers to an overtime win over the Colorado Buffaloes in the Alamo Bowl. More importantly, though, this group is hoping to set themselves up for a smooth transition into the first year of Bret Bielema’s tenure as head coach.”It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth for the whole offseason when you’ve got to go through seven, eight months thinking about that last game and how you lost it,” Thomas said. “And we definitely don’t want to do that. We want to be able to propel ourselves into a new season with Coach [Beliema].”last_img

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